Under the collection of ironic tattoos, chunky glasses, flowy flannels, and black skinny jeans, that barista, bragging about the book he’ll never finish, is ultimately just like the rest of us. Sure, he can slay latte art like a boss, and he can talk for days about the notes singing on his divinely blessed tongue, but at the end of the day, what baristas do (while impressive) can certainly be learned by anyone.
Yes, even you.
As you’re looking to develop your brewing skills and get the most out of your at-home coffee experience, take a moment to consider the five basics for making your coffee RIGHT (it’s an acronym): Ratio, Integrity, Grind, H2O, and Time.
Keep in mind that to get coffee “right” is an impossible standard. The world of coffee is about experimentation–there is not necessarily right and wrong. In this case, RIGHT is merely a helpful acronym to offer a framework for your experimenting.
First of all, let’s talk about the ratio.
Years ago (before I knew much about coffee), I brewed a pot for my bandmates during a rehearsal. We all cringed with disappointment as it was basically hot dirty water. Like so many others commissioned to make a pot for a group, I got caught playing the guessing game, not knowing that simple math could’ve helped me make a more confident decision and better cup.
My coffee-to-water ratio was all sorts of wrong.
When we think of coffee in terms of ratio rather than with a one-size-fits-all mentality, we take control of the brewing process, and then we can confidently adjust the brew to our own personal liking.
A general rule for a classic brew is to start with a 1:18 coffee-to-water ratio (1 gram of coffee for every 18 grams of water). From there, it’s simple math. If x is the desired amount of liquid coffee, and y is the amount of ground coffee; and if Stacy’s mom has got it going on and wants to use a 1:18 coffee ratio, then…x/18=y.
While different brew methods call for different ratios (for example, espresso is typically a 1:2 ratio) and everything is adjustable according to personal taste, the math equation stays the same.
So, next time you’re making coffee, instead of asking, “how many scoops do I put in this?” ask, “what is the desired coffee-to-water ratio?”
Secondly, think about integrity–a principle that touches on two vital points: integrity of the coffee beans and integrity of the coffee equipment.
Start by getting good coffee. You really won’t get far without it.
Perfectly-roasted coffee beans should be rich in color and have virtually no sign of moisture. The reason a lighter roast is your best bet is that the level to which it is roasted is ideal for preserving and highlighting the natural nuances of the bean. Dark roast coffee can be thick, charred, and muddy. Under-roasted coffee can taste like dirt. But a perfect roast provides sweet tones and a gold-like hue that far outweighs the oil in your Grandpa’s mug.
Next, think about the integrity of your coffee equipment by purchasing the appropriate equipment, but more importantly, keeping whatever you use clean! Coffee machines are a hotspot for mold and mineral build-up. It is key to properly maintain it regularly.
After a conversation with a customer, a man went home to clean his Keurig. Not only did he immediately call his daughter to tell her not to use hers until he could clean it (because he was horrified by the build-up in his own), but he said that after he cleaned it, his coffee tasted so much better! “Never again,” he told me, “will I let it get that bad.”
Thirdly, let’s talk about the grind and how it can help you make a better cup. It’s important to grind fresh only the amount of coffee you need as ground coffee stales within 30 minutes, but it’s also good to think of how you grind. For maximum control, use a conical burr grinder. Then consider the coarseness of your grind.
The grind size of the coffee beans is essential to the end result because it determines how long the grounds intermingle with the hot water.
If the grounds are too fine, you’ll get an over-extracted cup, meaning that it’ll taste bitter. If the grounds are too coarse, you’ll get an under-extracted cup, meaning the water hurried through the coffee without having the chance to properly extract. It’ll taste sour and watery.
Read more in our post, What You Need To Know Before Grinding Your Own Coffee
When talking about better brewing, we have to consider our water! Whenever possible, choose purified and filtered water over tap water. This will help keep your coffee and your coffee equipment clean which in turn will (of course) help your coffee to taste better and extend the lifespan of your equipment!
Consider also the temperature of your water. It should be between 195-210 degrees (just under water’s boiling point) for a proper-tasting extraction. The water temperature can vary on preference and type of coffee (experiment with it!), but if it is too cold or too hot, you just won’t be able to get an ideal taste. Either the water will needlessly boil the grounds or it just won’t be hot enough to do anything worthwhile.
Lastly, time. As we mentioned in the grind section of this article, the time in which the coffee and hot water intermingle determines the taste of the end product. So, that’s what we’re timing: the extraction period. How long do the coffee grounds steep in the hot water?
It’s as simple as tea. If you let a tea-bag sit too long, the tea will taste bitter. Too short and the tea will be too light.
A 12-second espresso shot will pale in comparison to a carefully extracted 28-second shot. Coffee made in a 10-minute French Press might require a fork and knife (not really but you get the idea) while a perfectly timed 4-minute French Press will taste great. If a pour-over coffee finishes in one minute, it’ll be sour. If it finishes in fifteen minutes–well, you get the idea. Time is important!
Brew pots or Keurigs rely mostly on presets so time isn’t quite as key, but if you notice the timing is off, it likely means you’re overdue for a cleaning.
Whenever and however you brew your coffee, think about the RIGHT acronym. Again, not because it is the golden rule, but because it offers a guideline for your exploration. For now, try focusing on just one element to experiment with and to perfect, but never forget that the joy in coffee is found in the art of experimentation!